Hail to the King: The Best Stephen King Film Adaptations

Growing up, Stephen King’s books were my introduction into the morbid joys of the horror genre and naturally I checked out all of the movies with his name on it, even the shitty ones like the one with and Dreamcatcher (2003) which, coincidentally, was a waste of a great novel. Times may have changed ever since I first borrowed Pet Sematary from the school library but my respect for King has not and with the long awaited finally hitting cinemas in 2017 along with other planned adaptations of his works, there’s never been a better time to be a Stephen King fan and take a look back at the best movies done under his name.

6. The Shining (1980)

Stanley Kubrick’s foray into horror is possibly the most well-known and critically acclaimed adaptation of a Stephen King story that also has the reputation of possibly being the author’s most hated reinterpretation of something he wrote.

As a horror movie, The Shining is a visual feat and a great example of cinematic atmosphere that no other film can hope to top but as an adaptation, it fares poorly as it doesn’t just deviate from the source material because it takes a literal shit on the book while doing its own thing without giving single fuck. Instead of showing the novel’s allegories to the demons of alcoholism, Kubrick instead decides to show Jack Torrance’s (Jack Nicholson) descent into madness which is induced by isolation and his deep seethed anger. Basically, Kubrick wrote his own horror story that just borrowed some of the names seen in the novel. So much was changed that Stephen King himself has gone out of his way to deride the film whenever he’s asked about it, even if he sees it as a good standalone horror movie.

The Shining is technically a bad adaptation but there’s no denying that it’s still a well crafted horror movie with lots of artistry thrown into the mix, hence its relatively low ranking in this list.

5. Carrie (1976)

In what would be the first of more than a hundred adaptations of his writings, the original Carrie showed audiences what a good team of creators could do with a then rising author’s book. By abandoning the book’s epistolary nature which told its story through means of fictional journalistic accounts in favor of a more straightforward narrative style, director Brian De Palma retells the now iconic vengeance an outcast girl unleashes on all of her tormentors in a more accessible, effective and personal manner.

Based on Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie follows the titular character played by Sissy Spacek as she discovers the dangerous telekinetic powers she possesses. While the movie is dated mostly because the tropes it pioneered (i.e. the jump scare and the fake-out ending) got overused in future horror movies, it still holds well as both a throwback piece and a good example of a loose adaptation that stayed true to its source material.

Ignore the remakes. Stick to the original 1976 film.

4. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)/ The Green Mile (1999)

Stephen King can write more than horror stories that are meant to make audiences shit their pants and director Frank Darabont knows this well as he’s the man responsible for the best non-horror movies based on a King novel. Based on a pair of prison dramas, Darabont’s adaptations of King’s takes on prison life may differ in the smallest details but they’re basically the same story, hence the tie.

Case in point, The Shawshank Redemption follows an aging inmate whose life changes after he befriends a man falsely accused of murder while The Green Mile follows a deathrow prison guard whose life changes after he befriends an inmate with healing powers who is falsely accused of murder. Both are good movies and loyal adaptations but The Green Mile feels like a very loose remake of The Shawshank Redemption after the latter failed to captivate audiences, as proven by its weak initial box office revenue while its successor had better financial luck.

This wouldn’t be their last collaboration as seen in the fantastic yet depressing 2007 movie The Mist, which was a vast improvement from its original novella but since I already gave it a spotlight in , I won’t include it in this list.

3. Misery (1990)

Among the many movies based on a Stephen King story, Misery is one of the few that doesn’t have a supernatural entity or a monster as its main antagonist and yet Misery still manages to be one of the most fucked up of the bunch.

Fan obsession gains a new meaning in Misery, which finds acclaimed author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) at the mercy of his self-proclaimed number one fan, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) after she saves him from a car accident that proves to be a godsend after Paul finds out what Annie has in store for him. Compared to the other entries here, Misery is conservative in tone and actually tones down the violence seen in the book (for one, there’s no amputation in the movie) but it is still one of the most claustrophobic and unsettling experiences on film and it would never have seen the light of day if not for Stephen King’s fucked up imagination.

2. Stand by Me (1986)

One of Stephen King’s best stories is surprisingly one that doesn’t have anything to do with ghosts or the supernatural in general. Hell, it doesn’t even bother trying to scare anyone because its priorities lie elsewhere.

The coming-of-age classic Stand by Me (1986) is one of the most heartfelt odes dedicated to anyone’s childhood days and it’s no wonder that the movie based on the original novella The Body is seen as one of the greatest nostalgic movies ever made. When a group of friends hear about a cash reward that will be given to anyone who finds the body of a missing person, they set out on an adventure that will change them forever and if the story’s (film or otherwise) reputation is anything to go by, both their lives and those of audiences were touched by a tale of innocence and friendship. This is as close to a perfect translation of a Stephen King story as we can get and it is one that deserves all of the praise thrown its way.

1. 1408 (2007)

Believe me when I say that the short story of the same name this movie is based on is bad. Here, an author gets so annoyed by a sentient hotel room that he sets himself on fire just to end the room’s evil shenanigans that included messing with his dinner menu’s language settings and opening doors at inappropriate times. King is a great storyteller but his novelized version of 1408 is definitely one worth forgetting.

The movie, on the other hand, basically writes an entirely new plot for ghost debunking author Mike Enslin (John Cusack) as he investigates the supposedly haunted hotel room but unlike The Shining, 1408’s choice to create a new narrative builds up on what the source material already has instead of throwing the book out of a window. Gone is the prankster room and now the titular room 1408 is a demented being of its own, a shapeless entity that drags Mike into an endless horror show that gives “mindfuck” a bad name. Add in some of the most creative visual representations of a psychological horror seen in modern horror plus engaging acting from a small yet effective cast and, personally, 1408 stands as one of the best loose adaptations of a Stephen King story.

Many of the events in the movie never occurred in the short story but they still feel as if Stephen King wrote them himself. From the unexplained terrors to turning mundane things such as radio clocks and telephones into the stuff of nightmares, 1408 proves to be its own story that still understood everything that makes Stephen King the undisputed king of the horror genre. When you have a Stephen King movie that turns into a frightening dirge, you know the movie did something right.

What was your favorite Stephen King film adaptation?


Known under the penname AD3, the author is currently a freelance graphic designer who has no life beyond collecting DVDs